YMSB | 08.28 | Red Rocks

Words & Images by: Charles Englar

Yonder Mountain String Band :: 08.28.09 :: Red Rocks Amphitheatre :: Morrison, CO

YSMB :: 08.28 :: Red Rocks
Special occasions generally create subsequent special moments. This particular special occasion for Yonder Mountain String Band was multi-fold: The impending release of their new studio album, The Show (out September 1 on Frog Pad), playing to a sold out crowd in their home-base state of Colorado at the magnificent Red Rocks Amphitheatre and sharing the bill with the somewhat unheralded Xavier Rudd. All of this, accompanied by the fact that the band handed out 10,000 free copies of their new CD (album case, booklet and all) to the lucky patrons in attendance, created an aura and moment that this writer will remember for quite some time.

This night was all about Yonder, make no mistake, but having never seen Xavier Rudd (with or without his stellar new band) before, I had a little extra excitement within me about the opener. I've heard many good things about the multi-instrument-playing, didgeridoo-wailing, positive-vibe-producing gentleman, and I was not disappointed. Coming onstage around 7:15 p.m., with plentiful sunshine and pleasant temperatures as a fitting backdrop, Rudd and his band were received warmly by the half-full venue. The hour-long set was a beautiful display of indigenous Australian sounds and multi-layered African beats. The music created by the trio was varied and unique, methodic and funky, organic and earthy. A fun moment came when Rudd brought his two young children onstage. The little ones proceeded to breakdance, provide backing vocals and ignite the crowd before the headliners took control.

With Red Rocks full to capacity, YMSB arrived onstage around 9 p.m. The three-hour, two-set panoply was a boot-scootin' boogie of a hoe-down. I'm fully aware of how corny that description sounds, but it's honestly what it was. Bearing witness to a sold out Red Rocks (10,000 strong) dancing their asses off for a bluegrass band was a unique experience and it was clear everyone in attendance was feeling it.

Adam Aijala - YSMB :: 08.28 :: Red Rocks
The show was a mixture of old nuggets, tunes from the new album and a couple covers that brought the house down. Early in the set the band launched into local favorite, "40 Miles From Denver," a foot stompin' song dominated by Dave Johnston's blissful banjo banter. Shortly thereafter an epic cover of the Grateful Dead's "New Speedway Boogie" was delivered to the hungry crowd. The second those familiar opening notes were played the ones who knew, well, knew. Playing the classic with concise precision, Jeff Austin eventually led the massive crowd into an impromptu a cappella chant of the famous verse, "I spent a little time on the mountain/ I Spent a little time on the hill." Following this great display were two songs off the new album, "Honestly" and "Steep Grades, Sharp Curves." However, the latter cut, while on the album, isn't exactly new. It's been in both Yonder's and Jeff Austin and Friends' rotations for a little while now. A similar version of the song appeared on the collaborative Jeff Austin/Chris Castino CD Songs From The Tin Shed a few years ago. At any rate, it's always a great song and this time around was no different (and the new album version is fun to compare to the other version; cool, subtle differences).

Jeff Austin is known for his rapport with the crowd, and this night was a fine example of that. As the band walked onstage for the start of the second set, Austin commented on the weather: "It's such a beautiful night tonight, we're gonna play a couple rain songs for ya," as the fellas stepped into "Illinois Rain" and "Rain Still Falls." "Complicated," a great song off the new album followed. Adam Aijala was able to showcase his almost Flamenco-style guitar work during the song, which seems to praises hope and patience.

YSMB :: 08.28 :: Red Rocks
Towards the end of the set, an absolutely gnarly, gargantuan sandwich was unleashed: "On The Run" > "Ten" > "Girlfriend Is Better" > "Ten" > "On The Run." Before the nastiness was let loose, bassist Ben Kaufmann shared a story about being pulled over by an asshole cop, who also happened to be an old high school classmate. Kaufmann closed the story by saying, "Who knew I would end up with a microphone in front of me and 10,000 people to listen?" The crowd exploded and the boys high-tailed it into "On The Run," a high-velocity, uptempo story of a fella, a gal and that gal's sheriff husband. "Ten" jumped into the Talking Heads' "Girlfriend Is Better," a cover that was played with excellence and got the crowd moving and grooving hard. As the sandwich was ending I was thinking to myself, "'On The Run' never ended," just as the notes came back and the dust-kickin' song commenced. Walking off the stage with the crowd in a total frenzy, Yonder was eventually coaxed back for a two-song encore, with the cherry being "Raleigh and Spencer."

As a friend and I were having a beer after the show and discussing what had transpired and delighted us: Austin's beautiful use of his "mandolin distortion machine;" Kaufmann's constant, groovy, thick bass runs; the band's ability to play traditional bluegrass and then take those traditions and morph them into an all out jam session with no walls or ceiling; the calm comfortable stage presence of all four guys; YMSB playing a sold out Red Rocks; 10,000 free copies of the new CD... and so on and so on. We settled on a term for the current state of Yonder Mountain String Band: Bluegrass Rock Stars.

Yonder Mountain String Band :: 08.28.09 :: Red Rocks Amphitheatre :: Morrison, CO
Set I: East Nashville Easter, 40 Miles From Denver, Spanish Harlem Incident, This Train Is Bound For Glory, Irondale, New Speedway Boogie > Honestly, Steep Grade Sharp Curves > Midwest Gospel Radio > Snow On The Pines > Winds On Fire > Snow On The Pines
Set II: Illinois Rain, Rain Still Falls, Complicated, Finally Saw The Light > Kentucky Mandolin > Too Late Now> Dreams, Pockets, On The Run > Ten > Girlfriend Is Better > Ten > On The Run
E: Holdin', Raleigh & Spencer

YMSB is on tour now; dates available here.

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[Published on: 9/14/09]

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